Located within the most extensive natural bay of North America, San Francisco proper resides in a 7x7 square mile footprint. The city's history began with Spanish settlers likely to choose the spot because of its privileged geographical location. Given its apparent military advantage, a Presidio was erected, and missions soon followed, making the area a beacon for the western frontier of the late Spanish empire. The US took over and expanded a few centuries later, with today's Presidio remaining as a state park and a welcome reprieve from a densely populated city.
From the fall of the Spaniards, a new nation took over both in the migratory population and in geopolitical distinction. Mexico, however, would neither colonize nor see the area developed much further than what the Spanish empire left behind - they soon lost ownership of the land. During the first half of the XIX century, settlers going west finally reached San Francisco. Both immigrants and military operations populated the area scarcely developing a foothold to attract more people.
Gold was discovered around the mid part of the XIX century, and with it, an explosion both in population and development swept the area. From it, the first wave of migrant population from outside the American and European continent also makes its appearance. Chinese history is vast and entrenched within the landscape of San Francisco. Despite some shameful episodes of segregation and systematic discrimination, its heritage and population remain an essential sector of the city's scene. New Asian ethnicities would later settle in the modern history of the town; they include Filipino, Japanese, and Vietnamese, among others.
San Francisco has always welcome the wary pioneers. People who fall in love with city bound to an eternal relationship with the natural beauty of the region. From the variety of microclimates to the rolling fog that encloses the bay, the city's relationship with its natural surroundings is evident and impactful. After the gold rush, the city continued to expand and build around both the limitations and majesty of its natural landscape. At times suffering severe setbacks due to the natural disasters to which the area is prone. A tale of earth and fire describes the area's demise and subsequent rise from its ashes in literal fashion - the city has been rebuilt several times because of fires and earthquakes.
The 'renaissance city' is an appropriate moniker for San Francisco. Not only for its innovative and world-changing influence but for the many times it has shed its skin and emerged as a brand new and trailblazing iteration of itself. The city has not only been influenced by its natural landscape, which is undeniable, but also by economic and military events that forever changed the social scene.
Examples of these influential events include the development of a powerful industrial elite beginning with the gold rush and culminating with the industrial revolution. This particular group will give the city its most impactful architectural landmarks, and design a metropolis that always intended to rival other world capitals.
Still, for all its landmarks and physical beauty. It is the eclectic mixture of people that gives the city its character. The city's most progressive and socially influencing environment can be traced to both migratory patterns and military history. The city was the official gateway and entry point of thousands of men who were shipped during WWI and particularly WWII. Upon their return, settlements like the Castro became camps for a new sexual revolution. They compiled large groups of the LGBT population into private ghettos due to the widespread discrimination of their practices at the time. Today's Castro is bright and colorful as the marquis of its flagship landmark, the Castro theater. Still, one can look in any direction or outside its confines and find a piece LGBT history at every corner.
The city's progressive love affair spread to other less marginalized sectors of the population, and soon bohemian San Francisco would beam as a frontier for the artists and the non conforming. Today's Haight-Ashbury delivers a trip down memory lane and the summer of love. A summer where psychedelics were bringing a new level of consciousness to an entire generation hungry for freedom.
The current identity of San Francisco is a city in transition. The technological revolution is changing the landscape faster than ever before, it is genuinely another gold revolution, but this time wrapped in silicon. The explosion of investment creates both incredible opportunities and challenges for both long time and brand new residents of its premises. The city is plagued with social inequalities that become apparent in its outrageous housing crisis, with a social and cultural war between its last settlers and the new hoards of techies looking for housing.
If history repeats itself, San Francisco should emerge from this social and technological seismic wave with a brand new identity that will be sure to delight and inspire the world over. However, if visiting the area during this transitional time; one can find a San Francisco that is chaotic and under construction. The changes for some forced and others welcome is bringing a new city landscape, one which final iteration it is yet to come.
No matter what, the spirit of any city resides in its people. The people of San Francisco are still diverse, just as is its landscape, and one can be sure to find a wide array of experiences based on who's hosting. For those looking for the old charm and quirk of San Francisco, they best to stay away from its downtown core, finding footing in its many distinct outer neighborhoods. If not sure which one to choose, hop on a bike tour and learn the vast history and diversity of a city that is as majestic, diverse, and currently challenged.